The Lens is Soft

Roger Cicala of has posted an interesting article about lens copy variation and the effects of ever-increasing resolution of digital sensors used in today’s digital SLRs. The article links to some other good outside resources as well, such as, etc.

It’s an unfortunate element of assembling a good camera kit these days, but I think that in some cases users are too quick to blame image weakness on camera gear (see almost any photography forum). Sure the gear plays a huge role in image quality, but not more than user skills during capture, post-processing and printing. Of course we don’t want our gear to be the weak link. Roger’s article highlights some good points to consider when buying gear.

Posted on Friday, March 12, 2010 in Gear • (4) Comments


Posted on 13 Mar 2010 at 5:48 am 1.  Richard

Well said Dale (and Roger). I’ll volunteer that in my experience, almost all of the problems with my images were caused by me and when I get it right (occasionally) it’s that I’ve done my part and the decent gear that I have shines through.

There are enough variables involved in making a decent image that aren’t always fully considered that a betting man would do well to bet that it’s user error almost every time.

Posted on 13 Mar 2010 at 8:37 am 2.  Dale Allyn

Richard, I agree. Certainly the higher resolution sensors are exposing certain weaknesses in some lens designs or quality control, but as you have stated, there are other elements at play as well.

We can see that smaller pixel sensels are very critical of glass, so we must take care to execute carefully in our processes. Still, like you, “fault” usually lies with me rather than my gear.

Posted on 13 Mar 2010 at 3:03 pm 3.  Richard

One of the things I realized in my short unhappy experience with the 5D2 was that the extra resolution exposed the weakness in my technique (shooting at too slow a shutter speed). You’d have thought that I’d simply bump up ISO on that rig because it can sure take it but old habits (and low ISO settings) die hard it seems.

Posted on 13 Mar 2010 at 10:32 pm 4.  Dale Allyn

I still feel that lower ISO settings have advantages, so increasing the ISO isn’t a “revenue neutral” move in my opinion.

The high-resolution sensors certainly are less forgiving of camera movement due to user error or mirror slap or shutter vibrations. And they won’t let marginal glass slip by with a “pass”. But when the lens is good, and when we get it right, there are visible advantages to some of the higher resolution sensors.

Still, I’m content with bucking certain megapixel-race trends, as there are often trade-offs which are not weighted in a way that suits my process. Surely, others feel differently and that’s fine too.

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